Capitalising on Prostitution

DISCLAIMER: This post is a veritable rant. It promises to go off script or at least be oblique to the recent themes I’ve adopted. It is also a bit late, missing the heels of the FOSTA debacle in the United States

Prostitution is immoral. It exploits women. It exists in a world of violence. It objectifies and creates a rape culture. It is a vector for transmission of diseases. These are the main arguments against it, yet many of these are arguments against Capitalism itself.

In fact, most arguments of prostitution are criticisms of capitalism or conflated claims to some tangential activity. The most popular conflation is with sex trafficking,  ‘modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act‘.

Prostitution is a category of sex work, which includes dominatrixes in the BDSM space, porn actors (and actresses if you expect archaic sexist jargon), phone sex operators, cam models. Nude modelling is somehow tasteful and not readily included in the collection.

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines sex workers [PDF] as ‘women, men and transgendered people who receive money or goods in exchange for sexual services, and who consciously define those activities as income-generating even if they do not consider sex work as their occupation‘. I won’t comment on why they feel the final dependent clause is relevant to the definition. Perhaps it’s in the realm of the aspiring actors or screenwriters who wait tables but don’t consider themselves to be waitstaff.

Returning to the main arguments in turn:

Prostitution is immoral. As a subjectivist, this is a difficult argument to win. Although morality is a human social construct, many people believe otherwise, and even those who don’t ascribe to the notion of an objective morality still adopt and abide by the fabricated moral codes generated by the worldview of, say, Christians or Muslims or some other sect who claim to have direct insight into such codes.

Nothing is immoral that society doesn’t declare to be immoral.

Nothing is immoral that society doesn’t declare to be immoral. In the United States, the institution of slavery—what I call hyper-capitalism or a capitalist’s wet dream—was deemed moral by most. Eventually, the morality was hotly debated, and now, it is considered to be immoral. Time changes everything. In some circles, slavery is still considered to be moral. In other circles, it has morphed into wage-slavery and because money is exchanged within a frame of a labour market, it escapes the definition.

Excepting for local norms, prostitution is not inherently more immoral than banking or retail sales.

Prostitution exploits women. Excepting that there are male prostitutes and sex workers, it is commonly believed that these people are (somehow) less likely to be exploited, so I’ll keep this focused on women. First, it is important to separate prostitution from human sex trafficking. This is not the topic, and it’s a problem with specificity. If you feel that sex trafficking is immoral and should be illegal, that’s fine; but don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Focus on the actual problem. <sarcasm>If you want to prevent all women from being exploited, lock them all up in monasteries. Problem solved. </sarcasm>

Prostitution is not inherently more immoral than banking

If one wants to discuss exploitation, let’s discuss a system designed such that a person needs to earn money to survive. Period. Full stop. If you buy into the capitalist worldview, then, that in order to survive a person chooses to be a marketing executive, a customer service representative, a janitor, or a prostitute, is none of your concern.

I have heard many arguments put forth that these women should get ‘real jobs’, jobs that pay minimum wage (or less) and have no other benefits, jobs where it would take a week or more to earn what they could in a day or less. That’s not even rational.

Prostitution exists in a world of violence. Despite trends, the world is still a violent place. Part of the higher probability of violence in the realm of prostitution exists because these women are marginalised by moralists. Even where prostitution is legal, it is still often viewed as immoral. They have little recourse to the legal system. They can’t organise. They are forced underground. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Don’t force these women into alleys and underground.

In the US, recent FOSTA and SESTA hysteria have disarmed women from the tools they used to navigate their environment. They could share intelligence related to which men to avoid for one reason or another. Other tools have cropped up to facilitate this cooperation, but these tools benefit from network effects. The more people having access to the information clearinghouse, the better.

Prostitution objectifies women. I’ll concede this point straight away but not without noting that many things objectify women: the beauty industry, the entertainment industry, the marketing industry in general. If as a society we can resolve objectification and prostitution is the last holdout, I’m onboard, right there with you. But there is no need to make prostitution the poster child for eliminating objectification.

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Prostitution creates a rape culture. To be fair, I have no metrics on this, and I am going to pass, but not without saying that it seems to be an implausible claim. And I have read counterclaims anyway.

Prostitution is a vector for the transmission of diseases. Indeed. And driving is a vector for traffic accidents. Of course, given higher frequencies of an activity, one would expect a greater number of outcomes—even with the same probability, the additional exposure may result in hitting this undesirable lottery. And the variety of partners with unknown sexual histories is problematic.

However, a mitigating factor is education—and not simply moralistic lip service. Women need to understand the risks and understand how to diminish it. Yet again, being marginalised does not necessarily allow a woman to be empowered. A client can insist on unprotected sex. If he forces his hand, no one is going to believe that a prostitute can be raped. As with sex trafficking, rape is its own subject and is only part of a larger conversation.


I was winding down, but I found a related quote I wanted to address:

Geena Leigh was in prostitution for 19 years from the age of 18. In her submission to an Australian inquiry into the regulation of brothels, she said prostitution: “has this way of stealing all the dreams, goals and beautiful essence out of a woman. During my years in it, I didn’t meet one woman who enjoyed what she was doing. Everyone was trying to get out.”

Evidently, lack of enjoyment in one’s employment is not limited to prostitutes. The is the problem with fundamental attribution bias. A recent Gallup poll cited that 85% of people hate their jobs. Maybe Gallup only interviewed prostitutes, or perhaps the 15% who liked their jobs were the only ones who weren’t sex workers.


 

Well, there went my morning…

For those wondering (and who’ve gotten this far), the impetus for this post was some other blog posts I happened upon in WordPress’ Reader.